Vols counting on Reeves-Maybin to continue his fast start
He still sees plenty of room for improvement.
Rather than dwelling on each of the 21 tackles he made last week in a 31-24 overtime loss to Oklahoma, Reeves-Maybin picked apart his performance and looked for what he could have done differently.
''I feel like I still left a couple of plays out there that could have changed the outcome of the game,'' Reeves-Maybin said. ''Really I just focused on the plays I missed, to get those corrected.''
That approach has helped Reeves-Maybin evolve into a rising star.
His 21 tackles against Oklahoma represented the highest single-game total by a Football Bowl Subdivision player so far this season. Reeves-Maybin's 30 tackles this season rank second among all FBS players, behind only Missouri's Kentrell Brothers.
Reeves-Maybin also is tied for seventh nationally with five tackles for loss. The junior from Clarksville, Tennessee, has forced and recovered a fumble as well.
''He has really worked himself into what I feel is one of the best linebackers not only in the SEC, but in the country,'' Tennessee coach Butch Jones said.
The Volunteers need Reeves-Maybin more than ever now.
Tennessee's defense lost its emotional leader and one of its top players last week when defensive end/linebacker Curt Maggitt chipped a bone in his hip. Jones hasn't pinpointed exactly how much time Maggitt would miss but has said ''it could be eight weeks, it could be six weeks, it could be 10 weeks.''
The loss of Maggitt leaves Tennessee's defense needing someone to fill that leadership void as it gets ready for SEC competition. Tennessee (1-1) hosts Football Championship Subdivision program Western Carolina (1-1) on Saturday before opening SEC play Sept. 26 at Florida.
''Jalen's going to have to step up, just as a lot of other guys will have to,'' defensive coordinator John Jancek said. ''Nobody expects anything less from us. We still have a job to do, and it's going to be leadership by committee.''
Reeves-Maybin is ready to do his part.
''Everyone has to step up and be more vocal with him out,'' Reeves-Maybin said.
Reeves-Maybin's emergence shouldn't come as much of a surprise.
He collected 101 tackles last season to tie for the team lead with A.J. Johnson. When Johnson was suspended for the final three games of the 2014 season, Reeves-Maybin picked up the slack and posted 13 tackles in a TaxSlayer Bowl victory over Iowa.
Reeves-Maybin spent the summer improving his footwork. He has studied tapes of such standout NFL linebackers as Luke Kuechly, Bobby Wagner, Navorro Bowman and Lavonte David.
He entered this season eager to take the next step in his development. Although Reeves-Maybin says he didn't set any specific goals, he did talk to his former teammate about one possible aim.
''I talk to A.J. a lot, and I was joking with him about getting more tackles than him,'' Reeves-Maybin said.
That's a tall order.
Even though he missed those final three games last year due to a rape investigation that eventually resulted in an indictment, Johnson posted 425 career tackles. That represents Tennessee's second-highest tackle total since the school started measuring the statistic in 1970. Johnson, who is scheduled to go on trial in June, posted his highest single-season tackle total in 2012 with 138.
But more performances like his most recent one just might put Reeves-Maybin within reach.
''He means everything to our football team and to our defense,'' Jones said. ''I can't say enough (about) his development. He's one of the guys I greatly admire and respect just because of his attitude, his character and everything that he brings to Tennessee football.''